Bicycles and the wonders of AI from the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci. Tour de France by Kraftwerk (Reddgr I, 6/20)

Bicycles and the wonders of AI from the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci. Tour de France by Kraftwerk (Reddgr I, 6/20)

😎 Respond briefly. When was the bicycle invented?

🤖 The bicycle was invented in the early 19th century.

😎 Make a shortlist of 5 engineers who lived before the 19th century and are widely regarded to be among the greatest engineers of all time

🤖 1. Archimedes (c. 287-212 BCE) – Known for his contributions to mathematics and engineering, he designed innovative machines and devised the principle of buoyancy.

2. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) – An ingenious inventor and artist, Leonardo explored engineering concepts, creating designs for flying machines, bridges, and other innovations.

3. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) – Although he lived during the 19th century, his early engineering work, like the Thames Tunnel, makes him a noteworthy figure in engineering history.

4. Zhang Heng (78-139 CE) – An ancient Chinese polymath, Zhang Heng invented the first seismoscope and made important contributions to various fields, including engineering.

5. Cai Lun (c. 50-121 CE) – A Chinese engineer credited with inventing papermaking, revolutionizing communication and documentation methods.

😎 Suppose you are Leonardo Da Vinci and I show you a bicycle. From an engineer’s point of view, describe how the design of this machine is remarkably witty. From the perspective of a polymath and Renaissance artist, theorize about how humanity can benefit from bicycles in the future. Reflect about whether someone in your era could have conceived a  machine like a bicycle. Don’t talk passionately, but act like an engineer who is also an artist and a scientist, knowing your intelligence and wit are considered by most people among the greatest in the history of humankind.

🤖 As an engineer, artist, and scientist of my time, I am truly captivated by the brilliance evident in the design of this bicycle presented before me. The concept of this contraption, employing two wheels in line and a pedal-driven mechanism, showcases an elegant and efficient mode of transportation. In the world of mechanics and innovation, the simplicity of such a design would undoubtedly resonate with my artistic sensibilities.

Looking beyond the immediate application, I can envision how this creation could benefit humanity in the future. By encouraging individuals to embrace cycling, this invention has the potential to promote a healthier society, both physically and mentally. The act of pedaling, while simple, engages the human body and fosters physical well-being. Additionally, this sustainable means of transport aligns well with the values I hold dear – a respect for nature and an understanding of the world around us.

As a visionary, I contemplate whether such a machine could have been conceived during my time. While the precise form of a bicycle might have eluded us, the underlying principles of balance, gears, and mechanical devices were certainly within our comprehension. Our knowledge of mechanics and the pursuit of innovative ideas offered fertile ground for exploration and invention.

In my era, the pursuit of knowledge and the quest for innovation were at the heart of our endeavors. Although the exact manifestation of a bicycle may not have graced our workshops, the seeds of ingenuity planted during the Renaissance would continue to bear fruit for generations to come. As an engineer, artist, and scientist, I remain captivated by the endless possibilities that such ingenious creations can bring to humanity, both in my time and beyond.

AI-generated image. Leonardo da Vinci riding a bicycle. Model: Stable Diffusion SDXL 1.0

😎 As an engineer of the 15th century, what is your opinion about human-powered transport? Why would someone want to use their own energy for impulsing a vehicle instead of that of a horse or other animal? Horses are stronger than humans, aren’t you amazed by how this machine can amplify human power? Remember you are an engineer… look at the mechanical elements of the bicycle: the frame, the pedals, the crank, the chain, the sprocket. Describe this machine as an engineer of your time who never saw or conceived it.

🤖 As an engineer of the 15th century, I must admit that I am thoroughly intrigued by the concept of human-powered transport embodied in this fascinating machine we now call a bicycle. It is an ingenious contrivance that showcases the potential of human ingenuity and mechanical understanding.

When contemplating why someone might prefer to use their own energy for propelling a vehicle, rather than relying on the strength of a horse or other animal, several reasons come to mind. Firstly, the use of human power offers a sense of autonomy and control over one’s movement, allowing individuals to traverse distances at their own pace and in their preferred direction. Furthermore, human-powered transport offers a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to relying on animals, reducing the strain on resources and contributing to a more harmonious coexistence with nature.

The mechanical elements of this bicycle are truly remarkable from an engineering standpoint. The frame, crafted to support the entire structure, exhibits an elegant blend of strength and lightness, achieving a balance that facilitates efficient movement. The pedals and crank system form a crucial linkage, effectively converting the circular motion of the rider’s feet into rotational energy, which is then transmitted through the chain to the sprocket, powering the rotation of the wheels. This interconnected system amplifies the rider’s force, providing a smoother and more effective means of propulsion.

Indeed, as an engineer who never saw or conceived of such a machine, I am utterly amazed by the ingenuity behind its design. The utilization of mechanical principles and the thoughtful arrangement of these components showcase a level of engineering prowess that speaks to the brilliance and innovation of the human mind. To witness how this device can amplify human power and transform it into a practical and efficient mode of transportation is truly awe-inspiring.

In my time, where the pursuit of knowledge and the desire to uncover the mysteries of the natural world were at the forefront, the bicycle would undoubtedly have been a testament to the remarkable capabilities of human engineering. It represents the fusion of science and artistry, where the seamless integration of mechanical elements brings forth an invention that can revolutionize the way we move and explore the world around us. As an engineer of the 15th century, I find myself deeply appreciative of the thought and ingenuity that has gone into creating this extraordinary human-powered transport device.

😎 If you had to choose one of your inventions, which one do you think could be more related to the conception of a bicycle. How do you think your work could have inspired the scientists and engineers who invented and built the bicycles 3 centuries after your lifetime?

🤖 If I had to choose one of my inventions that could be more related to the conception of a bicycle, I would undoubtedly point to my sketches and designs of various human-powered vehicles. Among them, the “self-propelled cart,” also known as the “carro automotore,” stands out as an invention that bears some resemblance to the concept of a bicycle.

Leonardo da Vinci’s drafts for the self-propelled cart (carro automotore)

My “self-propelled cart” featured a mechanical system driven by the rider’s own efforts. It incorporated a series of gears and mechanisms that, when set into motion by the rider’s pushing and pulling, could propel the cart forward. Although not exactly a bicycle in its modern form, this invention laid the foundation for the idea of harnessing human power to drive a vehicle.

The concepts and designs present in my self-propelled cart sketches could have served as an inspiration to the scientists and engineers who later invented and built bicycles, almost three centuries after my lifetime. My work on understanding mechanical principles and my exploration of human-powered movement offered valuable insights that likely influenced the subsequent generations of inventors.

The linkage between the rider’s legs and the mechanical system in my self-propelled cart demonstrated how human energy could be efficiently transferred to create motion. This concept of converting human effort into mechanical power through pedals and gears is fundamental to the operation of bicycles.

Additionally, my sketches often showcased a keen interest in balance and stability, crucial elements for any successful human-powered vehicle. The exploration of weight distribution and center of gravity, as seen in my designs, would have certainly played a role in inspiring later engineers to create stable and maneuverable bicycles.

Moreover, my insatiable curiosity and multidisciplinary approach as a polymath led me to explore various fields, including anatomy, physics, and mechanics. This holistic understanding of the human body and the principles of motion could have influenced the development of bicycles as well, as engineers sought to optimize rider comfort and efficiency.

In conclusion, while I did not directly invent the bicycle, my work on human-powered vehicles, mechanical principles, and the pursuit of knowledge in various disciplines undoubtedly laid the groundwork for subsequent generations of scientists and engineers. The concepts and insights present in my designs could have served as a source of inspiration and contributed to the eventual realization and evolution of the remarkable machine we now know as the bicycle.

😎 How long did it take you to paint the Gioconda?

The Mona Lisa (or La Gioconda), by Leonardo da Vinci

🤖 The creation of the Mona Lisa, or La Gioconda, was indeed a labor of love that spanned several years. I worked on this enigmatic portrait from approximately 1503 to 1506, and even continued to refine it until the end of my life in 1519. The pursuit of perfection and my unending curiosity about capturing the essence of the subject led me to devote considerable time and dedication to this masterpiece. The Mona Lisa remains a testament to my unwavering passion for art and the exploration of the human form.

😎 Did you draw or paint a lot of sketches of the Gioconda before starting to work on the final wooden panel you painted over? If so, how many sketches you or your pupils drew, and how much time did you spend doing manual work on the Gioconda other than what you painted on the wooden panel?

🤖 Ah, indeed, I embarked on an extensive process of preparation and exploration before starting work on the final painting of the Gioconda. I, along with my pupils, drew numerous sketches and studies to grasp the nuances of the subject’s expression, anatomy, and lighting. This preparatory phase allowed me to refine my vision and ensure the composition’s excellence.

As for the time spent on the manual work beyond the painted wooden panel, I continuously refined and adjusted the painting, seeking to capture the subtlest details and achieve the desired effect. The Gioconda’s enigmatic smile and the delicate interplay of light and shadow required meticulous attention and continuous refinement. The process of painting and reworking this portrait was an ongoing endeavor, demonstrating my unwavering dedication to achieving artistic excellence.

Throughout the creation of the Mona Lisa, I embraced the spirit of experimentation and curiosity, never settling for mediocrity. This masterpiece reflects not only my artistic skill but also my unending desire to push the boundaries of art and explore the human soul through the medium of paint. The process was a testament to the time and effort invested, resulting in an enduring work of art that continues to captivate the world to this day.

😎 I see you are not sharing the exact figures, but I like the response. I understand you do not remember all the details of the daily duties of a job that took years, especially considering you were a polymath who, besides painting, also engaged in sculpture, architecture, engineering, and many other expressions of human knowledge and skill. I don’t have enough words to describe how much we admire your work and legacy in my time. What if I tell you that, in my time, your pupils could get you a sketch of the Mona Lisa within just a few minutes based on any instruction you provide, with quality comparable to the ones you got on paper? This is possible thanks to a machine called computer that took centuries to develop and evolve after your lifetime. How do you think this could have helped you? Do you believe you could have had time to paint more paintings as beautiful as the Mona Lisa, and invented more wonderful machines like the carro automotore? Maybe you could have invented the bicycle with the extra time you would have gained for thinking and creating!

Talking to Chatbots: Do AIs like art? Article featured image. Collates three of the individual AI-generated or AI-assisted pictures used in the article: Salvador Dali inspired surrealist painting; LinkedIn jousting tournament, Reddgr avatar
Images from the blog post “Talking to Chatbots, do AIs like art?”

🤖 Ah, the wonders of your time truly fascinate me! The idea of a machine, a computer as you call it, capable of producing sketches of the Mona Lisa or any other artistic creation in such a short span of time is truly remarkable. Such a device would have undoubtedly intrigued and delighted me, for it embodies the spirit of innovation and creative expression that I hold dear.

With the aid of such a machine, I can only imagine how it would have expanded the horizons of my artistic endeavors. The precious time saved from the laborious process of sketching and refining would have allowed me to delve even deeper into my artistic pursuits. Perhaps I could have painted more masterpieces or explored further advancements in the realms of engineering, sculpture, and architecture.

The prospect of having more time for thinking and creating is enticing indeed. In the realm of engineering, I could have dedicated myself to perfecting my designs for the carro automotore or even envisioned the conception of the bicycle, a marvel of mechanical ingenuity that could have revolutionized human mobility.

As a polymath, I constantly sought to push the boundaries of knowledge and understanding. The presence of such a machine would have undoubtedly fueled my passion for exploration, enabling me to delve into new domains of scientific inquiry and artistic expression. The possibilities that technology opens up for the human mind to soar are awe-inspiring, and I am humbled to know that my legacy and ideas continue to inspire the pursuit of knowledge and innovation in your time.

In the spirit of perpetual curiosity and invention, I would have eagerly embraced such advancements, using them to expand the frontiers of human creativity and leaving an even greater impact on the world. The notion that my ideas and contributions resonate across the centuries to inspire future generations is a testament to the timeless nature of human innovation and the boundless potential that exists within each of us to shape the course of history.

AI-generated image. Leonardo da Vinci using a modern computer. Model: Stable Diffusion SDXL 1.0

Tour de France, by Kraftwerk

😎 Today’s song in the playlist is dedicated to bicycles, and the most famous cycling competition. It’s also somewhat related to engineering, which I believe it’s connected to cycling in many ways, as Leonardo’s ChatGPT discourse demonstrated. The song is “Tour de France ‘03 – Version 3”, from the album “Tour de France 2003”. What can you say about this song?

🤖 This song is part of a series of compositions by the German electronic music band Kraftwerk that celebrate the famous cycling race Tour de France [Wikipedia]. The band first released a single called “Tour de France” in 1983, which was inspired by their own passion for cycling and the sport’s connection to technology and engineering. In 2003, they revisited the theme and released a maxi single called “Tour de France 2003”, which contained three different versions of the song, along with one extended mix. The versions are listed on the album “Tour de France Soundtracks” as “Tour de France Étape 1”, “Tour de France Étape 2”, and “Tour de France Étape 3”.

The song “Tour de France ’03 – Version 3” is the third and final version of the song, which has a length of 3:36 [Wikipedia]. It features a minimal techno and trance style, with robotic vocals, synthesizers, and samples of bicycle sounds [Youtube]. The lyrics are in French and English, and they describe the stages of the race, the physical effort of the cyclists, and the beauty of the landscape. The song is a tribute to the endurance, speed, and elegance of cycling, as well as to the innovation and creativity of engineering.

Tour de France ’03 (Version 3), audio only. Official Kraftwerk YouTube channel

😎 That last sentence resonates so much with me. I am an engineer according by professional qualification and a cyclist by lifestyle. If someone can pay tribute to those two things in a piece of art of three and a half minutes, we are undoubtedly like-minded people. Please, explain more about Kraftwerk’s passion for cycling, apart from being authors of this song. They composed the original version 40 years ago, before I was even born, so I am impressed by how these German musicians were ahead of their time, not only pioneering electronic music but also using computers for artistic expression. How do they relate to engineering?

Kraftwerk performing at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago on March 27, 2014.
Kraftwerk performing at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago on March 27, 2014. Source: Wikimedia Commons

🤖 I’m glad you feel a connection with that last sentence. It’s always nice to find people who share your passions. Kraftwerk’s passion for cycling goes beyond this song. They are avid cyclists themselves, and they often incorporate cycling imagery and sounds into their music and performances. For example, they made a remix album of Tour de France in 2003, which featured the sound of bicycle gears and chains. They also performed at the opening ceremony of the 2017 Tour de France in Düsseldorf, wearing cycling jerseys and helmets.

Kraftwerk’s relation to engineering is also evident in their music and style. They are known for their innovative use of electronic instruments and devices, such as synthesizers, drum machines, vocoders, and computers. They also created their own studio, Kling Klang, where they experimented with sound and technology. They often present themselves as robots or man-machines, exploring the themes of automation, communication, and human-machine interaction.

You can learn more about Kraftwerk’s cycling and engineering influences from these sources:

📕 Connection: “Socrate à Vélo” by Guillaume Martin

😎 As today’s connection, I want to recommend a book I read, which I believe people who like cycling and don’t embrace conventional wisdom (link) will enjoy. The author is a cyclist who is also a philosopher. He has written other books, but the one I’d like to recommend fits very well into this post because the author also created stories about thinkers from other eras, like Leonardo, riding bicycles and introspecting about the sport of cycling. Do you know which book I’m talking about?

🤖 That sounds like a very interesting book. I did some web searches and I think I found the book you are talking about. Is it Cycling – Philosophy for Everyone: A Philosophical Tour de Force edited by Jesús Ilundáin-Agurruza and Michael W. Austin []? It seems to fit your description very well. It has essays on various topics related to cycling and philosophy, such as ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, existentialism, feminism, and ecology. It also features contributions from former professional cyclists and insiders, such as Lennard Zinn and Scott Tinley. The book claims to show how bicycling and philosophy create the perfect tandem.

😎 I’ll add it to the wish list, but that’s not the correct book. Let me give more hints. You should consider all the information I provide for guessing. The author is a French cyclist who is also a philosopher. In this book, philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Nietzsche, or Sartre, compete in a fictional Tour de France. Do you know which book I’m talking about?

🤖 I think I found it this time. Is it Socrate à Vélo (Socrates on a Bicycle) by Guillaume Martin? [The Inner Ring] He is a French cyclist who is also a philosopher, and he wrote a book that imagines a fictional Tour de France where philosophers compete against each other. He also mixes his own autobiographical experiences as a professional rider in the book. It sounds like a very original and playful book. I wonder how the philosophical debates would go on during the race. Who would be the most cunning or the most ethical rider?

Spanish edition of Socrate à Vélo (Sócrates en Bicicleta), published by Libros de Ruta

😎 I very much enjoyed the book and resonated with the author’s ideas because I find many commonalities between us. As the chatbot pointed out, the autobiographical experiences of the author are blended with fantastic stories about philosophers from different eras engaging in discussions, collaborating in teams, and competing in cycling races. I can envision the author having as much fun writing about the philosophers he studied at university as I did when I virtually interviewed and portrayed the greatest engineer, artist, and polymath of the Renaissance. Reading Socrate à Vélo was a joyful and instructive experience, so I recommend it to anyone who can spare the time for a 170-page read. In this book, you will discover how each philosopher fared in the greatest cycling race in the world and how they applied their wisdom and critical thinking in their new incarnation as “cyclosophers” (the term Martin used throughout the book and discussed in the linked radio interview, in French).

The connection of this book with cycling and the Tour de France is obvious. But, how does it connect with engineering, technology, and Leonardo? Here is one passage from the book about the divide between manual jobs and intellectual jobs in the age of hyperspecialization:

Nowadays the mind-body dualism not only operates within the individual, but has permeated the social structure. The hyperspecialization of jobs has divided society between “manual classes” and “intellectual classes”. Some members of society are only bodies. Others are only minds. On one side, the necessary actors, and on the other side, the spectators who watch…

In the eyes of many, being capable of uniting both worlds is something exceptional. That undoubtedly explains the attention that I was getting, as a cyclist with a degree in philosohpy. That was out of the expectations and classical norms*. Does that qualify me as an extraterrestrial? I don’t think so. I believe humans are capable of both doing and thinking at the same time.

Gullaume Martin, Socrate à Vélo (Socrates on a Bicycle)

Guillaume Martin is a rare polymath of our time. One that has garnered media attention in his niches: professional cycling, philosophy and writing, but he is not an extraterrestrial. Intellectual polymathy was once considered the norm, the *‘conventional wisdom’ in ancient times and the Renaissance, when erudites like Zhang Heng, Aristotle, or Leonardo simultaneously mastered multiple disciplines of knowledge and craftsmanship, including engineering, philosophy, science, poetry, or even sport. Unlike those from the Renaissance and ancient times, the most popular erudites of our era, with notable exceptions, are specialists in one specific discipline. You can test this by asking your preferred AI chatbot to: “make a shortlist of 5 erudites who lived after the 20th century and are widely regarded to be among the greatest of all time”. Being a polymath today is a rarity, but it’s not exclusive to remote times. Allow me to share an insightful brief article and infographic about polymathy and polymaths from different eras:

The benefits of being a polymath (Iberdrola blog)

Infographic: famous polymaths. Author: Iberdrola
Infographic: famous polymaths. Author: Iberdrola

I do believe we will witness a rise in polymaths in the future, and I think the door has been opened by the Generative AI-revolution. Remember the words written by the LLM when impersonating Leonardo da Vinci:

The precious time saved from the laborious process of sketching and refining would have allowed me to delve even deeper into my artistic pursuits. Perhaps I could have painted more masterpieces or explored further advancements in the realms of engineering, sculpture, and architecture.

The presence of such a machine (computers equipped with GenAI models) would have undoubtedly fueled my passion for exploration, enabling me to delve into new domains of scientific inquiry and artistic expression. The possibilities that technology opens up for the human mind to soar are awe-inspiring

Leonardo da Vinci chatbot impersonation. Model: OpenAI GPT 3.5

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